U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) today slammed Facebook for failing to remove vaccine misinformation from its platforms. The rapid spread of dangerous misinformation across social media could hamper the efforts of public health officials as they work to vaccinate hard-to-reach communities and hesitant individuals, representing a serious concern for public safety. Studies show that roughly 275,000 Facebook users belong to anti-vaccine groups on the platform.
“As public health experts struggle to reach individuals who are vaccine hesitant, epidemiologists warn that low rates of vaccine rates coupled with the relaxing of mask mandates could result in new COVID-19 outbreaks,” the senators wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “Moreover, most public health officials agree that because herd immunity in the U.S. is now unlikely, ‘[c]ontinued immunizations, especially for people at highest risk because of age, exposure or health status, will be crucial to limiting the severity of outbreaks, if not their frequency’. In short, ‘vaccinations remain the key to transforming the virus into a controllable threat’.”
A recent report from Markup.org’s “Citizen Browser project” found that there are 117 active anti-vaccine groups on Facebook. Combined, the groups had roughly 275,000 members. The study also found that Facebook was recommending health groups to its users, including anti-vaccine groups and pages that spread COVID-19 misinformation and propaganda.
The lawmakers asked Zuckerberg a series of questions, including why users were recommended vaccine misinformation; how long anti-vaccine groups and pages remained on the platform before being taken down; and what specific steps the company is taking to ensure its platforms do not recommend vaccine misinformation to its users.
A copy of the letter can be found here.